‘Blood moon’ to be visible tonight in Saudi Arabia

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The moon is seen above London, Britain, July 26, 2018. (REUTERS)
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The moon rises beside trees in Berlin, Germany, July 26, 2018. (REUTERS)
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In this NASA file photo taken on July 29, 2014 shows from 10:57 a.m. to 11:42 a.m. EDT, when the moon crossed between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the sun, a phenomenon called a lunar transit. (AFP)
Updated 27 July 2018
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‘Blood moon’ to be visible tonight in Saudi Arabia

  • Put simply, it is when the Earth gets between the sun and moon, blocking the sun’s light and casting the moon into shadow
  • A bright moon during an eclipse indicates a clear stratosphere, which means more heat from the sun reaches the Earth

Get the picnic hampers out, charge your camera and pack the kids in the car. It’s time to head into the desert to witness one of the great spectacles of the universe.

On Friday night and early Saturday morning, the Earth will pass between the moon and sun, creating a total lunar eclipse and turning the moon red — popularly known as a “blood moon.”
But this is not just any old eclipse. For while lunar eclipses happen regularly — about every two or three years — this will be the longest of the century. The total eclipse will last 104 minutes, but the whole show, from the moment the moon begins to be obscured (the penumbral eclipse) to the time it emerges from the Earth’s shadow, will last just over six hours.
And while it is likely to be visible across most of Asia, Africa and Europe, the best views will be in the Middle East and, more specifically, from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
As an added bonus, the position of Mars on its orbit means the red planet will be 40 million kilometers closer to Earth (60 million kilometers away rather than the usual 100 million), making it appear brighter and redder than usual, said Dr. Helen Klus, of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
“We should be able to see Jupiter and Saturn, too, with just a pair of ordinary binoculars — no telescope necessary,” she said.
In Saudi Arabia, the natural phenomenon is turning into a celebratory national event, with public viewings and workshops led by stargazing experts.
The Horizons Society for Space Sciences in Taif has invited people to view the eclipse, with information provided. The Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Science and Technology Center is holding a workshop in Alkhobar city corniche from 9.20 p.m. on Friday until 12.20 a.m. on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Self Development Academy in Al Madina Al Munawarah is setting up a viewing with telescopes and astrophotographer Turki Alamri on site. A workshop will be led by Rabab Al-Quidihi, the first certified woman astronomy “trainer” in the Gulf.
All of which adds up to irrefutable evidence of the growing popularity of astronomy — the study of the heavens and everything in them — in Saudi Arabia as a serious science.
Al-Quidihi is also the first woman member of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences, and gives workshops around the Gulf. She calls herself a “trainer” because astronomy is not taught in schools. But that may soon change.
“If you look back only five years ago or so, you couldn’t find an astronomical association, except in Al Qatif and Jeddah. Now the interest is peaking and associations have appeared all over the Kingdom,” she said. “Schools are now asking members to come and talk to young students about astronomy and celestial objects of the universe.”
Long regarded as a hobby in the Kingdom, astronomy is now gaining validity as “a real science,” according to Majed Abu-Zahra, president of the Jeddah Astronomy Society, not least because of its endorsement from the king and crown prince.
The subject is now taught as part of basic science and in two major Saudi universities, King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and King Said University in Riyadh.
As well as its key role in determining the Islamic calendar, astronomy is essential in studying climate, said Abu-Zahra.
A bright moon during an eclipse indicates a clear stratosphere, which means more heat from the sun reaches the Earth.
“Lunar eclipse records indicate a clear stratosphere over the past decades has contributed to recent warming. The total lunar eclipse on Friday is an important chance for Saudi researchers to collect data on the stratosphere and climate change,” said Abu-Zahra.
So what happens during a lunar eclipse? Put simply, it is when the Earth gets between the sun and moon, blocking the sun’s light and casting the moon into shadow. However, instead of turning dark, the moon appears red, giving rise to the term “blood moon.”
The effect is due to what’s known as Rayleigh scattering.
“The moon has no light of its own, it only reflects light. During an eclipse the only light to reach the moon is what is scattered through the Earth’s atmosphere. Blue light travels faster and gets bounced away more, while red light is slower. It meets fewer obstructions and ends up the only light to hit the moon,” said Klus.
“This scattering is the reason the sky looks red at sunrise and sunset.”
For many cultures and civilizations, the red moon was a portent of doom or a sign of heightened spiritual power. The Incas of South America believed the moon was being devoured by a monstrous jaguar, and would howl and shake their spears to chase the beast away. The ancient Mesopotamians also believed the moon was under attack and hid their monarch for safety until the eclipse was over. According to the Christian Bible, the moon will turn to blood just before the last day.
The Middle East has its own “blood moon” myths. Al-Quidihi recalls being told that she would be blinded if she looked at the moon during an eclipse. In one Gulf myth, the moon was bloody because it has been swallowed by a whale and then regurgitated when people on earth repented of their sins and prayed loudly.
A pregnant woman who looked at the moon during an eclipse was condemned to suffer psychological pain in life, according to another myth.
The eclipse is also inspiring artists, such as art teacher and astrophotographer Abdulrasheed Murad.
“I am very excited — a lunar eclipse is one of the greatest wonders,” he said. “Taking photographs is my way of educating people, and encouraging my community to look up and wonder,” he said.
There has already been one total lunar eclipse this year, on Jan. 31, and the next is scheduled for next Jan. 21. But such apparent frequency should not make us indifferent to what we are witnessing.
“It’s an amazing time and people all over the country are attending viewing parties or workshops,” said Al-Quidihi.
“The wonders of the universe are something to behold, and I am elated that for this lunar eclipse, our society is finally breaking away from the fears of the eclipse and just looking up in amazement.”
So, do as the learned woman suggests. Get out. Turn your face to the sky. Look. Marvel.


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”